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Pebble's decision to prioritize fitness tracking detracts from its charm

Pebble's decision to prioritize fitness tracking detracts from its charm

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Pebble plans to outfit all future Pebble watches with heart rate sensors. Fitness is apparently going to become a third and critical tenet of its smartwatch business, in addition to pushing through notifications and allowing for communication. But while Pebble wants to set itself up as a tempting option for health-conscious users, the company is failing to understand why people purchase its watches in the first place: their design and basic functionality.

I bought a Pebble Time Round earlier this month. It's my first smartwatch, and I only purchased it after talking to multiple Verge staffers and friends about how they liked theirs compared to other wearables, like the Apple Watch. They stressed to me how nice it looked on their arm, especially for women; how much they loved being able to skip songs when riding their bike; and the peace of mind they had after seeing and then clearing all their notifications. Personally, I just want to get to a point where I never have to take my phone out again. In my dream world, I read emails on my watch, reply to them with my voice, and then reply to texts the same way. I want to avoid being tethered to a screen. Pebble puts notifications first, so it appeared to be the right choice for me both functionally and aesthetically.

the company fails to understand why people buy its watches

Pebble founder and chief executive Eric Migicovsky seems to understand why people are choosing his company's products.

"Pebble is affordable, it's fun, and it doesn't take itself too seriously," Migicovsky told The Verge, adding that people often buy more than one Pebble because they're accessible. "We're pretty comfortable in that space."

I agree; my parents want this watch because it doesn't seem too difficult for them, and people on the street constantly ask me about it. So with Migicovsky's quote in mind, I struggle to understand what exactly Pebble's game plan is.

Its aggressive move into fitness tracking by including a heart rate monitor directly on devices goes against the idea that its watches are fun and it operates as a lax tech company. Hundreds of fitness trackers already exist. I probably write about one nearly every other day. What I like about Pebble is that it isn't, or at least wasn't, trying to force me into functions I don't need or care about. I blissfully ignored Pebble's Health app, but it won't be easy to ignore a physical monitor. If I wanted a fitness tracker, I would have bought one years ago. Consuming all functionality and trying to get a monopoly on my wrist sounds like something Apple or Samsung would do. Now, that's not to say I don't think it's wise of Pebble to build heart rate monitoring into its future devices. Most people likely expect this to be at least a minor feature in wearables. But should Pebble make it a priority? No.

Pebble didn't try to force me into functions I don't need or care about

There are so many other functions I'd prefer Pebble work on before attempting to make fitness a core part of its business strategy. I still can't respond to messages through voice control because I have an iPhone and don't use AT&T or Verizon. The Time Round dies after a couple days of use. Pebble's app store is buggy, although I don't use it all that frequently.

I love my Time Round because my chosen watch face looks like a Tamagotchi on my wrist that delights me. Plus, my Pebble only interacts with me to deliver pleasant news, like a friend texting me or my brother calling. Logging my pulse isn't endearing or warm. It's cold data that feels like it would fit on the third slide of a PowerPoint presentation.

We already have hyper-specific fitness bands, and we already have smartphones that handle our browsing. Where Pebble is winning is its design and basic features. They're smartwatches for the everyday person. I just want to look good with a watch on my wrist and not fumble around with an unnecessarily complicated gadget that wants to log every beat of my heart.